I thought about how I would lead into this, the ranking of teams’ farm systems, but don’t have a good way to do it, other than say it is something that I like to tackle every year. Obviously, in the grand scheme of things my rankings aren’t going to make waves with Keith Law, John Sickels, or the staff at Baseball America. However, these rankings by any outlet are rather arbitrary in nature, and I like any of them, will try to give everybody some reasoning behind them. Scouting and prospects are a big part of the game. We can see that by how teams are clinging onto them in a lot of cases this year, instead of dealing them away for proven players. A lower ranked system doesn’t necessarily correlate to a bad team, and a highly ranked system doesn’t mean it’s a good major league team. It just gives us all a look at organizations who might get healthy in a few years, and which ones are going to have to find other means.
Anyway, this is supposed to be fun, so if you want to discuss, let’s do so….
I have believed for some time that the Mariners have had an underrated system the last couple of years, now finally the rest of the prospect world is catching up. Of course, they added a quality 2011 draft to the mix of players, and to a system that saw the graduations of Dustin Ackley, Michael Pineda, and Kyle Seager to the majors. The recent trade of Rookie of the Year candidate for 2011, Michael Pineda, has also added a big time prospect to the system. The Mariners aren’t likely to be all that competitive in 2012, but in a couple years, things could be very different. Let’s take a look at what they have….
Top 20 Prospects:
1. Jesus Montero (DH)- Montero is a DH that can fill in as catcher. In my book that drops his status down a little, but he is a top 15 prospect in the game for sure because of the bat. Montero projects as a .300 hitter who has potential to hit 25-30 home runs annually. He is a true middle of the order hitter, which the Mariners needed desperately.
2. James Paxton (SP)- Paxton has somewhat of a checkered past in that he has been drafted twice, and kicked around the independent leagues for some time, but he does have a quality arm. He lacks superb command, but for a lefty his stuff is top notch, and a touch better than the next guy on this list.
3. Danny Hultzen (SP)- It’s not often that a #2 pick overall ends up a #3 on his teams prospect list, but that is what I have here. It’s not a knock on Hultzen. He commands a quality arsenal, and more than likely won’t take long to reach the big leagues, but I don’t see quite as high a ceiling as I do with Paxton. Hultzen is just a quality pitcher.
4. Tijuan Walker (SP)- Speaking of upside, there is plenty when you talk about Tijuan Walker. Great frame, good stuff across the board, and showed an ability to throw strikes. Tremendous future, and the only reason I have him lower than the other two is experience level. Could end up the best of all three.
5. Vinnie Catricala (3B)- Catricala can just flat out hit, and that means he might find his way to the Mariners roster at some point in 2012. For most of his minor league career, prospect watchers have been keeping this guy down, and they can’t do it anymore. Catricala raked after a promotion to AA to show he means business.
6. Nick Franklin (SS)- This guy to me is underrated. Franklin can hit, and should hit with some authority as well. I also believe that he can stick at SS, as some seem to underrate his athleticism. I think he is plenty athletic enough to stick at SS, and could be a quality big league player for years to come there.
7. Phillips Castillo (OF)- One thing the Mariners are somewhat loaded with are Latin players with enormous upside. In my estimation, Castillo is probably the most intriguing mix of tools and polish so far, but he is extremely young at this point. Like many other youngsters, he is going to have to show more selectivity at the dish.
8. Francisco Martinez (3B)- Obtained in a trade with the Tigers, Martinez has plenty of potential as a 5 tool player. He needs a little work defensively, but has plenty of arm for 3rd. He has potential to hit for average, power, and should be able to steal some bases as well.
9. Carter Capps (SP)- Capps is a guy that the Mariners are going to work out as a starter to begin with, but he could double as a closer type if that doesn’t work out. He has two potential plus pitches with his fastball and curve, but needs to develop better command and a change to reach his considerable ceiling.
10. Guillermo Pimentel (OF)- Pimentel is a guy who received a big time bonus from the Mariners a few years ago, and for good reason. Pimentel struggles with striking out right now, but he is young and has time. His raw power is tremendous, and could be a power hitting corner outfielder down the road.
11. Brad Miller (SS)- Miller is a college guy that the Mariners drafted in 2011, and he impressed in his short stint. Miller is a guy that should be solid defensively at SS, and could be above average if moved to 2nd. He also has a good idea at the plate, and has the ability to line baseballs all over the field. Should hit for moderate power as well.
12. Victor Sanchez (SP)- Sanchez was a July International Signing Period bonus baby this past season, so we don’t have any statistical information to back things up. However, he was widely considered along with Roberto Osuna to be the best available. Quality present stuff at the age of 16 has the Mariners looking forward to his debut.
13. Alex Liddi (3B)- I’m not sure why he is downplayed as a prospect, while Boston’s Will Middlebrooks is lauded. Liddi strikes out more, but has tremendous power, and is starting to look like he can handle 3rd base. He isn’t going to hit for average, but could hit 25 bombs. He isn’t a bad athlete either.
14. Martin Peguero (SS)- Peguero is another bonus baby from the Mariners Latin scouting department. Peguero is a quality athlete that could bring some on base ability to the top of an order, along with some stolen bases as well. Doesn’t have much power, and has to work out some defensive kinks, but he is still tremendously young.
15. Chance Ruffin (RP)- Ruffin isn’t a closer, but he does attack hitters like he is one. Has a quality fastball/slider combo that should help the Mariners out in the pen in 2012.
16. Stefan Romero (OF)- Romero is a quality athlete that possesses some power as well. Not the best defender in the world, so he may work best in left field, but Romero has a chance because of the bat.
17. Jabari Blash (OF)- Blash is similar to Romero in that he has a power/speed combination that is intriguing. He has some swing and miss in his game though, and he will have to work on that as he advances.
18. Mauricio Robles (SP)- Based on pure stuff, Robles would rank higher easily. He still has a chance, but injuries derailed his 2011, and with his smallish frame, he might get relegated to a bullpen slot.
19. Julio Morban (OF)- Morban is yet another outfielder in this system (and there are more) that kind of falls in that power/speed combination category. Morban is just 21, and lost almost an entire year of development, so there is hope for M’s fans to see a breakout in 2012.
20. Anthony Fernandez (SP)- Fernandez I think is a guy that slips in under the radar for most people. Solid stuff that generates enough swings and misses, and also ground balls.
Just Missed The List: Stephen Pryor (P), John Hicks (C), Steven Proscia (3B), Tyler Marlette (C), Ramon Morla (3B), Carson Smith (SP), James Jones (OF), Jordan Shipers (SP), Alfredo Morales (OF) and Carlos Triunfel (SS).
Sleepers: Jamal Austin (OF), Jose Torres (SP), and Ketel Marte (SS). Austin is a fast outfielder who shows good plate discipline at the top of an order. Torres is an extremely young projectable righty out of the DSL. Marte, also out of the Dominican Summer League is a slick fielding, athletic SS who could grow into some power.
Rebound Candidate: Robles. He was a top 10 prospect last season. Could be again by staying healthy. Has nasty stuff if he can keep the walk rate around 4/9.
Verdict: The Mariners biggest strength is in those top 3 pitchers. Hultzen, Paxton, and Walker all have at least #2 starter potential, with Walker having ace potential. Another year like 2011 and he will rank above the other two. After that, there is a drop off in the quality of starting pitching except when you get down to the lower levels. The Mariners have put a lot of focus into the international market and been dropping a lot of dollars there. Castillo, Peguero, Sanchez, and Pimentel are just scratching the surface, and the Mariners even have a couple youngsters they got from Aruba. Now, this doesn’t mean that most of these prospects will succeed, in fact, I am not sure there is a system that has more boom or bust in it than the Mariners does, but if they hit on just a couple, I am sure they will be pleased.
Not only do they have a lot of boom or bust, they did well to garner some guys in the 2011 draft that could be solid major leaguers, or at least role players like Mike McGee, Proscia, Hicks, and Miller.
Obviously a quality system.